Keeping up with the Texas Legislative Session bills

Christian Vasquez , Copy Editor

The deadline to introduce a bill to the 85th Texas Legislature was on March 10, and with more than 2,700 bills and resolutions currently in the Senate and 5,200 in the House that were filed in time, there is a lot to go through. The session will end on May 29, so there are still 69 days for both the Senate and the House to decide what is going to be passed and what is going to be left behind. Here are some bills worth looking at.

SB 4

Senate Bill 4, otherwise known as the sanctuary bill, has passed through the Senate and is in the House State Affairs Committee. The sanctuary bill would, in its current form, punish sheriffs, police officers and constables if they did not cooperate with federal immigration agents, with a class-A misdemeanor and the possibility of removal from office.

The bill has been introduced at recent legislation sessions in one form or another, but it is only now that it has a higher chance of being passed. But it will not come to the House for a vote in its current form. The chairman of the committee, State Rep. Bryon Cook, R-Corsicana, has said that he will not rush the bill through the committee.

“If you look at this on the big picture (level), all we’re really needing to do, all that’s really been said is that local jurisdictions need to honor federal detainer requests,” Cook said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Another change to the bill by the House is that law enforcement will be allowed to ask an individual’s immigration status only if they are arrested. This is a much narrower allowance than the Senate version of the bill, where a person can be asked their immigration status during interactions as benign as a traffic stop.

SB 6

Known as the bathroom bill, Senate Bill 6 was passed through the Senate last Tuesday, March 14, in a 21-10 vote. The vote had one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who voted in favor of the bill. The bill would prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms in public buildings, such as government buildings and public schools, that match their gender identity and instead require them to use facilities that match their “biological sex.”

The bill has received widespread condemnation from advocacy groups, the NFL, Texas Association of Business, as well as celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Jimmy Kimmel.

While the bill has passed through the House, it has not yet been assigned to a House committee. It is likely to be assigned to the State Affairs Committee, which was the same committee it was assigned to in the Senate.

Both the Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, and Cook are known to be against the bill, which could make it difficult to pass through the House.

SB 8 & SB 415

Senate Bill 8, which would ban “partial-birth” abortions and restrict fetal tissue donations passed through the Senate on Wednesday, March 15, while Senate Bill 415, which would ban prevent dilation and evacuation abortions by doctors, passed on Monday, March 20.

“Partial-birth” abortions is a term generally used by those in opposition to abortions. The medical term, dilation and extraction, means that the pregnant woman’s cervix has been dilated and the fetus is partially removed before the abortion is completed. Abortions using this method are usually past the 20-week mark.

The authors of SB 8 referenced the debunked Planned Parenthood videos in their statement of intent. The bill also prohibits fetal tissue donations, and criminalises payment in exchange for fetal tissue.

Dilation and evacuation, is a method of removing pieces of fetal tissue inside the womb so as to not damage a woman’s cervix in the process of an abortion, this is also usually performed after the 20-week mark in a pregnancy.

Sen. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, remarked that dilation and evacuation is agreed upon by doctors as the safest way to perform an abortion after the first trimester.

Both bills have to go through a House Committee before being voted on the floor.

HB 81

El Paso’s State Representative Joe Moody’s House Bill 81 will decriminalize marijuana possession of one ounce or less to a civil penalty that does not exceed $250, and would have also ensured that people who could not afford the penalty would receive no more than 10 hours of community service. Currently the bill is still in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, where Rep. Moody is the chairman.

According to the fiscal note released by the Legislative Budget Board, court revenue loss is $1,553,558 each fiscal year, however there will be a revenue gain of $2,195,245 each fiscal year through civil penalties. The Office of Court Administration reported that HB 81 would result in 56,086 new cases handled by justice courts as civil cases as opposed to criminal cases in county-level courts. They reported that revenue loss to counties would be $1,925,061 annually. However, they expect a positive overall fiscal impact for counties due to “a reduction in the costs of court-appointed counsel.”